Music & Song
The website for Dr Martin Shaw OBE FRCM (1875 –1958)
"A remarkable man who is insufficently recognized these days"
Sir Michael Holroyd
7: The Egg Shell
Shaw's songs celebrate all three Forces. This one celbrates the Royal Navy.
Notes on the Poem
The poem itself appears to be a surreal melange of ideas, until its ideas are explained:
A Sailors’ Superstition
It was an old sailors’ superstition which led to the practice of punching through the bottom of the shell after eating a boiled egg.
Sailors believed that if you did not do this, a witch could use the shell as a boat, in order to create havoc for shipping out at sea.
A Torpedo Boat
The superstition led to a torpedo boat built in the late ninteenth century being named The Egg-shell – the subject of Kipling’s poem.
These fast-moving ships were relatively small and lightly built, another reason for them to be called The Egg-shell, but they were there to sink and destroy enemy shipping, creating havoc just as a witch would do.
Kipling uses the supernatural theme to describe The Admiralty: The Witch of the North refers to a figure of authority, such as the British Government, or an Admiral in charge of the fleet.
The Little Blue Devil is the captain of the torpedo ship, who, as a member of the Royal Navy, wears a blue uniform.
A Self-propelled Torpedo
The Whitehead was a naval term for a self-propelled torpedo used by the destroyers. It had been invented in 1866 by a British engineer called Robert Whitehead.
The identity of L.M. Lascelles, to whom the song is dedicated, remains unknown. The Lascelles family are associated with Princess Mary, the Princess Royal, whom Shaw knew by association with her Lady in Waiting Lady Mary Trefussis, so it might have been a royal dedication discreetly made.
With acknowledgements to the Kipling Society for their generous help with the background to this poem.
|Rudyard Kipling (1865 - 1936) Poem first published in Traffics and Discoveries: Their Lawful Occasions; 1904.||Curwen||1919||Currently out of print|
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